Plain and simple, ‘Widows’ is an out-and-out powerhouse of a film. Following his Oscar-winning ‘12 Years A Slave’, director Steve McQueen has crafted a sharp, compelling and substantive heist thriller imbued with a dynamite group of collaborators. Thoughtful as much as it is entertaining, the film is able to use the construct of the heist genre and heighten it with meaningful themes equally walloped by an unwavering brutality in its visual imagery. Not are the characters just archetypal roles of the genre, the ensemble brings great humanity to these performances with many achieving some of the best performances of the year. To that end, ‘Widows’ is one of the best films of the year.
Based on a 1983 ITV series of the same name, ‘Widows’ begins amidst violence and tragedy. A heist gone wrong has resulted in the deaths of a band of criminals. In the ensuing police shootout, it made widows of women from alternating circumstances. There is Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis, ‘Fences’) who was living a life of modest luxury with her husband Henry (Liam Neeson, ‘Silence’). Alice (Elizabeth Debicki, ‘The Great Gatsby’), a bruised but loving wife to her husband played by Jon Bernthal. As well as, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez, the ‘Fast & Furious’ series), a hardworking woman with a local business constantly in financial despair at the cost of her husband’s issues with gambling.
However, their pain doesn’t dissipate beyond the nature of their loss. Along with the deaths of their husbands, they're also left with an unfinished job with dangerous ramifications. The crew attempted to steal $2 million dollars from a crime lord, but with the money lost in an explosion, the sinister Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry, TV’s ‘Atlanta’) gives Veronica the ultimatum of having to find him the money by any means in four weeks' time. With no one else to turn to, she enlists her fellow widows to strategise a heist and be free of their husbands’ situation.
‘Widows’ finds everyone involved working at the top of their game, and primarily cements Steve McQueen as one of the greatest directors working today. His craft is immaculate, being in such command of this story from a tonal and pacing standpoint, McQueen displays masterful direction. He does this in the company of some magnetic collaborators who coalesce with his vision beautifully. The cinematography, by frequent McQueen collaborator Sean Bobbitt, effortlessly manages to evoke the gritty Chicago landscape with ease, and is able to boost the film’s (often lingering) tension by making every shot - no matter how long or simplistic it appear - effectively evoke substance to often powerful degrees.
And that is the edge that ‘Widows’ often holds over its contemporaries within the heist genre: it is a film permeating with lofty themes with substance sharing equal billing with its thrills. ‘Gone Girl’ author Gillian Flynn penned the screenplay and proves a big strength to ‘Widows’, as she is able to balance between well-earned suspense by ways of creating thematically powerful material to prelude or offset said suspense. ‘Widows’ has a lot to say, as it covers issues of sexism, interracial prejudice, political corruption, police brutality and issues regarding the working class. To speak of the effect to which they are used would spoil the film, but let it be known what it does do is give thoughtful insight alongside the pulpy thrills. It makes the world feel lived in, as we can practically feel the grit and desperation of our heroines.
‘Widows’ is one of the best films of the year.
With the strength of these themes boosted by an ensemble cast all producing stellar work. Viola Davis is strong and compelling as the leader of this operation dealing with very complicated grief, while Elizabeth Debicki is phenomenal as the woman tired of being under the control of powerful men. There isn’t a bad performance amongst them, with many able to show a different measure to their range. Daniel Kaluuya does a near-180 after his Oscar nominated performance for ‘Get Out’ as he downright terrifies as one of the film’s central villain. While, Colin Farrell under a thick Boston accent, is enthralling to watch as a politician desperately trying to manoeuvre his way through an election. The cast are outstanding as all these brilliant facets of filmmaking are able to come together to create this searing and gripping thriller.
For a studio movie, ‘Widows’ feels so much a product of the idiosyncrasies of director Steve McQueen and his crew; it is remarkable. Being able to garner the intensity of a thriller and centre with powerful nuance ideologies makes for a film that sticks long in the memory after the first initial viewing. ‘Widows’ is a gut-punch of a film but for all the best reasons, offering a product that is able to entertain as well as make you appreciate the power of filmmaking in all its spellbinding notions. It is a terrific piece of work, deserving of all the praise it is accumulating.